Once a romantic hideaway accessible only by boat, Lovers Key and its three surrounding islands (Black Island, rumoured to be named after pirate Black Augustus, Long Key and Inner Key) now comprise a state park off the coast of Fort Myers, Fla. where visitors can kayak the mangrove-lined estuary, glimpse some of southwest Florida’s famous wildlife, hike kilometers of trails or simply lounge on the four-kilometre beach.
Here’s a glimpse of the park and where to stay on Lovers Key.
The four-kilometre paddle through this quiet estuary in the park is picturesque and teeming with wildlife including alligators, osprey, bald eagles, bottlenose dolphins and manatees. Visitors can rent canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboard at the park’s concessionaire. (Photo: Michela Rosano)
A murky peek at a resting manatee. The West Indian manatee is the resident species in this region and are often seen swimming in the estuary, which acts as a refuge from the (sometimes dangerous) bustle of nearby Estero Bay. (Photo: Michela Rosano)
Lovers Key is touted as one of the best birding areas in southwest Florida. Visitors have spotted more than 40 varieties of birds in the park, including egrets (pictured here), ospreys, roseate spoonbills and American kestrels. (Photo: Michela Rosano)
There are also more than 10 kilometres of manageable trails, including a paved path, along Black Island that take hikers or cyclists (bikes can be rented in the park) along the banks of Estero Bay, inner waterways and a recently constructed butterfly garden (pictured). A number of guided tours of the park are also available, including a cycling tour. (Photo: Michela Rosano)
A common site along the trails, sea grapes were a traditional food of the Calusa Indians that inhabited these islands in the 1600s and, once ripened to a deep red or purple, the tart fruit is used today to make jam, jelly and wine. (Photo: Michela Rosano)
Two boardwalks take beachcombers from Black Island across Inner Key to Lovers Key Beach on the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. (Photo: Michela Rosano)
The beach is an important nesting ground for sea turtles and during nesting season, from May to October, signs and tape warn people not to disturb the sand. (Photo: Michela Rosano)
While visitors can’t stay at the park, there are plenty of options nearby. Just five kilometres away, Lovers Key Resort on the northern tip of Lovers Key offers exceptional water views from every room, both short and long-term rooms and suites, as well as condominiums for purchase. (Photo: Fort Myers & Sanibel/www.FortMyersSanibel.com
After a long day, sip a cold one at Flippers On The Bay, the resort’s restaurant overlooking Estero Bay that was recently named one of Fort Myers’ 10 best restaurants by USA Today Travel. (Photo: Michela Rosano)